How the British Touring Car Championship fired out of lockdown in the summer and packed a nine-event season into 16 intense weeks was good for the hearts, souls and minds of British motorsport fans in this desperate year. We could barely see the join after the long, pandemic-induced delay, at least until the TV cameras panned to the spectator banks and grandstands.
Britain’s premier racing series missed the crowds that were barred from the circuits this year. Of course it did. But ITV’s wall-to-wall live coverage meant we didn’t miss a drop from the usual crash-bang-wallop glut of great racing action. In such a context, the season can only be considered a triumph.
Autocar gathered BTCC supremo Alan Gow and ITV commentators David Addison and Tim Harvey to look back on another great season in which racing surely emerged as the main winner, against the odds and in the most difficult of circumstances.
Alan, congratulations on making this Covid-affected season happen. How much of a challenge has 2020 been?
AG: Putting it together initially was a nightmare. Getting dates at the circuits wasn’t too bad, but to try to find seven hours of live broadcasting for nine events was tough. That was my biggest challenge, finding enough ITV airtime to make it work. They had all the other sports at the same time too, which had an impact on their schedules.
Tim and David, in terms of broadcasting, how did it work for you?
DA: We were at the events but remotely. We were broadcasting not from a commentary box overlooking the track, as we usually do, but from a purpose-built unit in the TV compound. That’s where we went and that’s where we stayed. It was a good place to work from in terms of space, and we had all the screens we normally have, but we couldn’t go trackside to watch the cars or head into the paddock to talk to drivers. We had to be clever on getting information, using WhatsApp and text messaging. We were being like young people!It must have been surreal and a new experience for you?
TH: I’ve been around the paddock since 1987, and this time there was no sense of occasion or atmosphere at all. Most of my weekends are usually spent roaming around talking to everybody, being an insider as to what’s going on. I felt so remote. But once the racing started and we were talking about what we were seeing on the screens, it was exactly the same.
The crowds are central to the BTCC, but this year they couldn’t be there. What was it like for you, Alan?AG: It was surreal, particularly for the first few meetings. As Tim says, there was no atmosphere, although the teams just got on with it and there was a good bulldog spirit in that sense. It took half the season to get used to it, and when the crowds come back next year, we’ll probably be shocked at how hectic and noisy it is!
But the viewing figures on ITV4 must have been good?
AG: Well, for the first couple of meetings, we took a hammering, because they clashed with the two Silverstone Formula 1 races. That was unavoidable, but after that the figures were very good. But even that was a surprise to me because there was a lot of sport happening each weekend, as everyone had shifted their events to the end of the year too.